Friday, October 31, 2008

Encouragement

I had about five blog posts I wanted to write today. Instead . . . I didn't. But here's a start.

On Wednesday, the night before my surgery, this Psalm turned up in my readings:

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble? . . .

4 The one thing I ask of the Lord
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
5 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock. . . .

7 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
8 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
9 Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation! . . .

13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

(Psalm 27, excerpted. New Living Translation)


On Thursday morning, dark and early, before I left for the hospital, this came up in my morning readings:

6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins[b]? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."

(Luke 12.6-7, NLT)


On Thursday night, back home, groggy with painkillers and lingering anesthetic, I read this Psalm:

1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.

4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

(Psalm 30.1-5, NLT)

Kind of an encouragement-sandwich. I just feel like giving a little credit where it's due. More disgusting details, happy thoughts, and wry observations in the next few days. It's not like I don't have time for this, after all . . .


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Second Thoughts

I'm not having any.

But I am glad I went for the second opinion. I like my surgeon better than Their surgeon, but I like Their medical oncologist better than mine. This might be good to know, after my surgeon is done with whatever cutting he needs to do.

Meanwhile, what my surgeon told me at the very beginning was upheld by Their medical oncologist, which is that chemo is not a foregone conclusion. It's a possible conclusion. The surgery and another special type of testing will shed light on the issue. But it's nice to know I might possibly have a choice.

As for what ails me (besides, you know, cancer), I seem to be feeling better, so all systems are go for tomorrow. I have to shower with some crazy antiseptic solution which, if I accidentally get it into my eyes or ears, will make me go blind and deaf, respectively. I have to do this both tonight and tomorrow, so I get two chances, even. Then I will go to the hospital where they plan to give me some happy pills so I don't get nervous before they knock me out. I don't know that that will be necessary, but maybe I'm secretly more nervous than I feel. Who knows. I'm considering bringing all the cancer literature I've received in the past month to the OR and telling them they don't need to anesthetise me because I can just read that to knock me out.

Okay, not really. But it seems like it could work. In any case, I'll talk to you when I wake up . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ambivalence

It's not that I don't care what's happening to me at all. It's just that I don't really know what I'm feeling about it these days. I no longer have this desire to announce to random customers that I have cancer. ("Hey--how's it going?" "Not bad--it's Friday, and that's always good." "True . . . except I'm working this weekend. And I have cancer." Note: that conversation never happened. Well, okay, it has, but not the last sentence.)

I have ceased--at least at present--to worry about financial fallout. (This is partly because of some assistance on the part of numerous generous souls, but also because after the bill hits a certain amount it all starts to look like the same number.)

I don't feel like I'm facing imminent death. Everything seems strangely manageable. But I have a feeling I still want it to happen on my terms or something.

Yesterday I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Everything ached. Also, the thought of eating made me ill. I drank bouillon and ate some bread and didn't even wish I was eating more. I don't want to be sick, because if I'm sick on Thursday, my surgery will be postponed, and I just want to get something done regarding this already. Today I feel better, but the cough I had with my cold a few weeks ago has come back.

Tomorrow I'm going to another hospital to get a second opinion on treatment. Likely this will not change the Thursday surgery, but it might affect some other treatments. But I have to get up earlier than anyone should have to get up unless they're opening a coffee shop that morning, and I'm so tired. And I already feel like I know what I want for treatment. And I no longer feel like I want anyone else's opinion. I don't want any more sitting in doctor's offices talking. I either want to get this show on the road, or to lie in bed and sleep for about 24 hours . . .

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Secrets and Surprises to Arrange

It's not that I'm all that observant or savvy. It's just, I guess, that I usually have at least one friend at any given time who is a little secret-impaired. Anyway, I haven't been surprised by, say, most of my surprise birthday parties . . . even when they were happening during a time of year in which my birthday isn't.

I mention all this to highlight how extra-spectacular my colleagues at Starbucks are.

Last night Ed! and his band had a gig at a local establishment. Everybody from our store who wasn't working was planning on going. I myself was planning on going. But I feel like I've been running from one thing to another for almost two months straight and I was tired. I didn't want to go out. I didn't want to get dressed up. I wanted to stay in my pyjamas and read or blog or something. But Ed! as you know, has been very supportive of me lately, so I felt like I should probably go along in spite of my druthers.

When I got there I found out that, barring a few folks, everybody really was there, which was cool, because we are "technically" not supposed to fraternise with each other outside of work. But now here we were, fraternising, and Manager-Hillarie and Assistant-Manager-Laura were even there, and we all looked like actual people instead of green aprons, and the women were wearing make-up and stuff, and it was pretty cool.

And then Manager-Hillarie handed me a gift-bag.

The store had taken up a collection and bought me an iPod nano, engraved on the back with the words "This one goes to eleven" (select readers will understand), loaded it up with 185 songs, 40 pictures of themselves, and a movie, so I can entertain myself while convalescing. They also bought me an iTunes gift voucher. I was overwhelmed. Once again I feel like I'm the recipient of stuff that . . . should belong to someone else or something. For one thing, I can't figure out how to load music that's on my computer onto the iPod without erasing what everybody loaded on there already . . .

Then today my New Church left a gift basket on my desk. I'm not entirely sure how all the things that were in that basket were in that basket--it was a little like a Mary Poppins bag, except that it all dumped out in my trunk on the way home and that was how I discovered how superhuman a feat it must have been to fit it all in in the first place.

I've been getting parcels and cards and emails and other generosities and I just kind of don't really understand it--I think I said that once--but I'm grateful. And . . . heck. It's kind of fun. I'm not going to lie. Surgery is on Thursday and I'll deal with that when it happens, but meanwhile . . . thanks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Costume Shopping

Some girls get to take their friends or sisters and shop for wedding dresses. I got to take one of mine and shop for wigs and scarves for when I go bald. I was hoping I would have one of those bride-to-be moments where (as when some pending brides see a dress, try it on and never have to look any further) I would see a wig that looked just great and not need to worry about anything else. That didn't really happen, though. I've never really gone shopping for a Hallowe'en costume (the times I've dressed up, I've made my own), but I suppose there might have been similarities to that sort of trip, too.

Anyway, Kristin was a good person to have on hand. We both agreed that the square bandanas tied in the back looked good, and that dark auburn hair is a great colour on me. It was a little hard to tell about wig styles exactly, because I currently have so much of my own hair, it ballooned all the wigs out to comical proportions. I think I found one I like, though, in said shade of auburn, and although I at first thought I wouldn't bother with wigs at all, if my insurance covers enough of this one I might go for it. Meanwhile, I shall definitely be stocking up on bandanas.

Afterwards, Kristin and I went and got dinner, drank imported ale/cider and talked about the implications of everything that's going on in my life right now. And about the infestation of critters in her and Jerry's apartment.

Nothing like a girl's night out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cheers

The people at the Comprehensive Breast Center (not a name I would have chosen, but then . . . I'm not sure what other name could have been chosen) are starting to recognise my name. Pretty soon they're going to recognise my face, too.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Ever since I was probably in high school, I've said, "I don't want to be made a fuss over. I just want people to know who I am." This is partly why, I suspect, I got a job at Starbucks. And write a blog. But . . . the only way anyone at the Comprehensive Breast Center can get to know who anyone is, is for Anyone to get breast cancer.

I like that these seem to be a caring bunch of people who see their patients as people, too, instead of as problems or random assignations or something. I like that. I do. But . . . I'm still not overly delighted to be one of the patients, I think.

The Reaction Is Not Always Equal. Or Opposite.

Some days I discover I'm a control freak. Today might be one of those. I'm just saying.

We were only down a person for half an hour of my entire shift, but since one of our sister stores closed last week, we've been a little busier than usual. Plus, I had one of those stupid six hour shifts which does not give enough time to open the store, do the cash deposit, and take the legally-required "lunch" break all without going over on hours. Trust me. It just doesn't. Today especially.

By the time my relief came in, I was too stressed to be relieved; I felt a little like I did on the day of the Last Straw--nearly hyperventilating and kind of shaking. This time I didn't feel like slamming lockers, but when the safe didn't open as I asked it to, setting me back another few precious minutes, I found myself starting to cry.

This, I told myself, was ridiculous. (Everybody else clearly thought so, too, although they were too polite to say so.) There was absolutely no reason to be so upset or so stressed. These things happen. Once I left, two more people arrived so they had plenty of people to get done the stuff that I hadn't. But I still had to go in the back room and take a deep breath and calm down. And I got neither the cash deposit nor the legally-required lunch break done before it was time for me to go.

I guess I was upset because I was trying so hard to have a good shift turnover for the next person in charge, and no matter how fast I ran up and down my gerbil cage, I just couldn't do it. The money still hadn't gone where it needed to go, the sink was overflowing with dishes and recyclables, the brewed coffee kept running out, the pastry case looked like some pastry-locusts had descended, and my stomach was in knots. (Not to mention growling.) But . . . it still didn't make sense for me to flip out over it that much. It's just that I felt out-of-control, and I don't like that, evidently.

After I left I felt much better, but then I talked to someone in my surgeon's office and found out that he (the surgeon) wants to move my surgery to the 30th instead of the 31st. Not only does this mess up my really good Hallowe'en joke, but it messes up my work schedule, which messes up things for everybody I work with. I was supposed to work that day, and I need those hours, and that pay, and . . . I'm afraid I got a little snippy with Diane. (Poor Diane. I'll bet she gets this all the time.) Also--it didn't help. If I want my particular surgeon to do my surgery (which I do), I have to cooperate with when he is able to do it.

I guess I was upset because this cancer is messing with my plans, and it's opening me up for other people to mess with my plans. It makes me feel helpless, and I don't like that.

Then I had to stop by the hospital to pick up some documents and drop off some documents and try to find the financial counselor's office so I could ask them a question. I couldn't find it, and I wandered down scary hallways past people who looked like they knew where they were and what they were doing, and I had no idea where I was or what I was doing at all. I started to feel like crying again, so I gave up my search and wandered back down all the scary hallways and left. I knew if I went to the desk where the document transfer had occurred and asked for a parking validation, they'd give it to me, but they'd also ask me if I found the financial counselors and I would have to tell them no and feel stupid, and then they'd give me the same directions again and I would want to cry some more. So I paid more for parking than I legitimately should, and went away.

I don't think control should be an issue for Christians. I think we should all just trust Jesus and at the very least keep moving forward with a kind of curiosity to see what happens next. I guess some people do that. I don't, very well. Every once in a while I can. But today wasn't one of those times.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Plus . . .

The light fixture in the hallway burnt out three brand-new bulbs--one with a puff of smoke, even.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And Now for Something (Sort Of) Completely Different . . .

David-of-Six says this post should instead be entitled, "Water, water everywhere, except the kitchen sink." He's right, actually, but I'm stubborn.

Back in June or something, the kitchen sink faucet started dripping. The Milk Guy came over for dinner one night, and after he had evicted the wasps that had moved into the grill (at some danger to himself) and had grilled our vegetables, I asked him, "Do you know how to fix dripping faucets?" He got a kind of roguish gleam in his eye, repositioned the water handle and said, "All fixed!" We both knew it wasn't, but it wasn't the hugest problem in the world, so I let him off.

My parents came to visit for a couple of weeks later in the summer and I asked my dad, "Do you know how to fix dripping faucets?" I got a similar response.

After my parents left, the dripping began under the sink. I couldn't find exactly where it was leaking from and figured I could manage with slight drips until my parents came home at Christmas, because who wants to fork out money for a plumber when it's not that big a deal? I put two plastic bins underneath the pipes, every so often bailing them out the back door.

After the Sixes moved in, the drips from the faucet were par for the course, and the drips under the sink had turned into torrents. Oh. The arm wasn't properly connected to one of the joints. That's easy enough to fix. We shoved the two pieces back together and the drips (at least the lower ones) stopped.

Then they started again. Not to mention the sink was clogging. David-of-Six replaced some of the piping under the sink. It didn't help.

On Thursday we (by which I mean the Sixes) called a plumber. The plumber couldn't make it until Monday. The kitchen was starting to smell. The sink was not draining. The dishwasher was backing up into it. Some of the other sinks were clogging up, too. "Pump your septic tank," Everybody said. Yesterday a guy came and pumped the septic tank. It was fine. Nothing was wrong with it. Fortunately. It was a good preventative measure, Everybody assured me. I'm sure it was. But the sink was still not draining, and it was still dripping. Also, now water spurts out from under the handle.

A friend called a drain-clearing company for us. They sent someone to us yesterday afternoon. He ran a snake down the pipes and wrestled with them for about two hours. There was, indeed, a clog. He removed the clog. In the meantime, he discovered that a pipe beyond the cellar wall had broken. Most of the water was still going down the pipe. Some of the rest of it (and its attendant sludge) was going into the insulation. Mmmm.

Licensing restrictions apparently prevented him from fixing the pipe. He was not sure he had removed all the sludge, but was afraid to try anymore, lest he damage the pipes further. He advised we call a plumber. The plumber, he said, could fix the pipe. The plumber could fix the leak. The plumber could fix the drips and the spray. Then, if the sink was still clogged, he--the Drain Guy--would come back for no extra charge and clear out the rest of the debris. He removed the piping immediately under the kitchen sink and turned the water off there.

So . . . we're still waiting for the plumber. Tonight we ate on paper plates. I lugged two-and-a-half days' worth of seven people's dishes into the basement and washed them in the lower level sink. While I did my laundry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fortunately

I think I may have mentioned this before, but in Kindergarten we used to read a book called Fortunately. In it, Ned, the main character, is trying to get to a party, and all sorts of alternately fortunate and unfortunate things happen to him on his way there. I don't remember all the things very well, or even the ending (though I suspect--and hope) it was happy. But I do remember being intrigued by the concept even as a child and I often still think of it, wondering at life and the way it seems that good things so often get marred by the bad, and yet conversely how some good things couldn't have happened without the bad things happening first.

I've been processing a lot, obviously, and I've brought up a lot of things that have made me feel unhappy. Right now, though, I just want to process some gratitude, and acknowledge that there's a whole lot of good that has happened in and around this situation already. A whole lot of threads feel like they're converging, when they never would have seemed related at first at all.

Here are some of the story threads, with how they're starting to tie together. If it's annoying . . . don't blame me. I would have used a whole lot more words otherwise.

The Guy
Fortunately, Jenn had a job at a coffee shop. Unfortunately, she was getting really sick of it. Fortunately, she met the Milk Guy there. (Actually, she met him long before she started getting sick of the job.) Unfortunately, they didn't really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, particularly as relates specifically to God. Fortunately, this both challenged and bolstered Jenn's faith so that her relationship with God and her faith in Him grew more than it had in a really long time.

The New Job

Fortunately, Jenn had a job at a coffee shop. Unfortunately, she was getting really sick of it. Fortunately, Val knew about a job at a church in the City. Unfortunately, it was only part-time. Fortunately, Jenn applied for it anyway and got it. Unfortunately, this made her really busy, with two part-time jobs and a free-lance writing gig. Fortunately, keeping the coffee shop job allowed her to keep her medical benefits.

The Family-of-Six
Fortunately, Jenn lives in a decent-sized house. Unfortunately, she doesn't enjoy living alone very much. Fortunately, the Sixes' house sold almost immediately in a nearly-dead housing market. Unfortunately, their visas for their overseas move were a little more complicated to get than they expected. Fortunately, Jenn invited them to stay in her house. Unfortunately, things got a little crowded. Fortunately, they all get along with each other really well.

The Counselor
Fortunately, Jenn has two jobs and a house and some good friends to share with. Unfortunately, all this change was stressing her out. Fortunately, her insurance covers some counseling services. Unfortunately, her previous experiences going to counselors has been less than ideal. Fortunately, the Milk Guy referred her to a counselor. Fortunately the counselor is a Christian (even though the Milk Guy hadn't realised it). Fortunately she's also really good. (Yeah. Not too much unfortunate about that one.)

The Cancer
Fortunately, Jenn every once in a while gets observant. Unfortunately, she noticed something amiss. Fortunately, she went to the doctor's. Unfortunately, nobody really thought it was anything serious. Fortunately, Jenn's mother told her she should ask some more questions. Fortunately, her doctor sent her to a surgical oncologist. Fortunately, the surgical oncologist thought she was okay, too. Unfortunately, she wasn't. Fortunately, he had ordered a biopsy anyway. Unfortunately, it came back positive for cancer. Fortunately, now she knows.

And now for the tie-ins:

The Milk Guy's aunt goes to my new church. (I did not know this when I applied for the job.) She's a really nice person. She has offered to accompany me to appointments if I need her to. (The Milk Guy has stepped up in his own way, too, mostly by entertaining me and helping me not think of cancer for a while.) Also, that church has walked the path of cancer an insane amount of times--which doesn't seem like it would be all that lovely for them, but it certainly helps them know how to help me. I would never have thought of that.

Heather-of-Six has actually been coming to my appointments instead of the Milk Guy's aunt. David-of-Six isn't working right now, so he can watch the kids while she comes with me. Having the Sixes here has been like having family during this time when my biological family are physically far away. I would never have thought of that. (Other people from my old church are helping, too.)

Even though I'm tired of Starbucks itself, it gives me medical benefits, and I can apply for short-term disability and family medical leave so that I can keep them, and still get paid a portion of what I would be making if I were working. Plus there are people there like Ed! and 409-Caitlin and Mouse and MissAlineous and Bentleman who make me laugh and feed me and make pink ribbons. I would probably not have thought of that either.

My new counselor's mother and sister both fought breast cancer and her sister is doing fine. Again, I'm not sure how awesome this was for my counselor, but it does give her an insight into what's going on with me that other people couldn't necessarily have. I definitely never would have thought of that.

I'm not always very socially adept, and I talk about money when you're not supposed to talk about money. I didn't mean to, in that letter--it was just something scaring me at the time and I wanted to not be scared; sometimes it helps to talk about the monsters. Anyway, people are being very generous to me. Thank you.

Also, as an update . . . on Wednesday I had my PET scan to find out what the deal is with my lung. Looks like it was scar tissue. Or gone. Anyway, it isn't more cancer.

Maybe God does do more than we can ask or think . . . so I'm grateful.

Hair Today . . .

Right this second, I'm not feeling as upset about the likely chemo aspect of this whole process as I was. Still, I was a little startled at the strength of my reaction to the news that I have baldness in my future.

The funny thing is that I've never been much a fan of my hair. It never does what I want it to, and it's only within the last four years that I've found a hairdresser who can really cut it to my taste (but he's expensive, so I only go, like, twice a year). It is a strange, indeterminate colour and it's frizzy but never actually curls, and in moments of frustration I've been heard to burst out, "All right! That's it! I'm shaving my head!"

It's just . . . I never really meant it.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I am neither the most liberal nor the most conservative student of the Bible, and I don't really think that a woman's hair length reflects her salvation status. But I do kind of think Paul was onto something when he said "a woman's hair is her glory." Long or short, dyed or naturally hued, When I joked around with some of the guys at Starbucks about being bald for Christmas, they were sympathetic and still laughed at my jokes, but when I told 409-Caitlin, she practically started crying for me. Heather-of-Six cried for me at the news, too.

I know it's only temporary. And when it comes back, they tell me, it will come back curly. And maybe blonde. I used to be blonde. And I always wanted curly hair.

(One time I prayed that God would make my hair curly, but seriously? This is a little extreme. On the other hand, I suppose it might indicate that God really does listen to our prayers, and sometimes His answers include a big ol' long wait . . . And then . . . a really weird answer. Is this doing "more than all we could ask or imagine"?)

But the thing is, this is my hair. Like it or not, it's what I've had since I've had any. I've grown into it, and it has (though not always as I wanted it to) expressed something about me. Even when I've hated it, it has in a way been something of my "pride and joy." And so sometimes, when I think about it, I can't help getting a little sad.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pink

409-Caitlin and Ed! made pink ribbon pins with our store nickname ("One West") on them so the rest of our Starbucks colleagues could show their support. The powers that be will not let anyone wear them while working at Starbucks, but the fact that these two made such things was so sweet . . . I seem to be fresh out of tears for the last few days (I think I overused them last week), but if I had had any in stock, I'm sure I would have cried some when I found out what they had done. I really do feel like there's this "great cloud of witnesses" or something, caring for me more than I could have imagined or deserved . . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why. (?)

I have this very hazy memory from my distant childhood of this short-term playmate who used to ask "What for?" after everything. I don't remember if we lived in New Jersey or Massachusetts or even Honduras when I knew her. I don't remember her name. To me, her name was always "The What-For Girl."

Conversely, I have few memories of asking "why" very often myself. Until I turned about 22, that is. Ever since then, it seems like I've wanted to know the "why" of everything, which is unfortunate, because you just can't. Often, I am not very pleased with the fact that you can't, and I have been known to describe myself by saying, "I fight with God a lot."

It's never been a question of disbelieving in God. I can't do it. I tried once. Maybe if he'd stop making Himself known every time I'm "this close" to giving up I could do it, but He just keeps showing up and in the process I feel assured that 1) He is there, 2) He loves me, 3) I have no clue what He intends for me. The part I have a hard time with is the last part, and the trusting that His ideas for my life actually are better than mine. So . . . I hurtle "whys" across the universe and try futilely to wrestle with the God of it.

Until now.

I know. You don't believe me. Especially after yesterday's post. But the thing about my anger yesterday is that when it came down to it, I wasn't asking why in the great cosmic, universal sense, but more in a confined, causal sense. And when I really dissected my anger, I realised I wasn't truly angry at God. I almost felt like I was angry at the doctors and the writers who were telling me these things when I didn't truly have any (or much) control over the situation in the first place and I already know the world is broken.

A few weeks ago my car temporarily tanked, and I thought I was going to have to get a whole new one. I got really furious at God and wondered why He allows me to struggle so much. The next day I found out the car was okay (well, it was going to cost a lot less to make it okay, anyway), and the day after that I found out I had cancer, and although I cried at the news, I had no sense of fist-shaking at the heavens at all.

I still can't figure it out. I don't think I've instantaneously grown up within the course of that one day. I don't think I've even fully given up asking why or getting mad at God about things, because there have been a few more minor things in the midst of all this that I've taken Him to task for. But somehow I don't feel like I need to demand the reason for this one.

Maybe it's because I feel like there is a reason, even though I'm not clear what it is. It's not like I feel, exactly, that God Himself reached down and gave me cancer, just like I know He didn't reach down and kill His own Son Jesus. It feels more like, as with the crucifixion, God knew this was going to happen and already had something good and big up His sleeve to do with this.

Obviously I don't think it's going to be anything like "saving the world" or that. Only Jesus has that down. And I'm not even fully convinced that I will ever see the end result of what my having cancer will bring. I just have this weird sort of bedrock sense that, as Julian of Norwich said, "All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well."

I suppose that, since I'm such a "What-For" kind of girl these days, and since I've just asserted that I have no desire to rage the "whys" about this situation, tomorrow I will be vastly upset and start asking why all the time. It could happen. I'm just saying that so far? It hasn't. And that, my friends, might be a small miracle in itself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Grrr . . .

Today I was angry.

I don't know how to explain the anger precisely. I didn't feel like I wished other people had my disease or anything, but I was reading about factors that indicate risk for breast cancer and I realised that I hardly have any of them. And the ones that I sort of have, I barely have. I found a string of thoughts running like this through my head:

What? I'm supposed to use even less plastic than I already do? I've already thrown out my Starbucks travel mugs and I don't microwave with plastic.

I drink
less than one to two glasses of alcohol per day. Probably per week. What are you talking about?

I'm being penalised because I haven't had children and I haven't breast-fed? And the reason I haven't is because I'm not married and I'm trying to live life the way
God wants me to?!

(Delete swear words).

I feel really strongly about that last standard. If I could rewind and do this life again, I suspect I would still live up to it. I really believe sex (and child-bearing) is a sacrosanct part of marriage and should only happen within marriage. But the fact is, "really believing" it doesn't decrease longing, and it seriously ticked me off today that by honouring it, I may have increased my chances for this disease.

The fact is, though, that I've never really wanted to have children. And in reality, of course, that one factor probably has very little to do with my getting cancer. I'm not being penalised. I know that. My diagnosis probably has more to do with my trying to protect the environment for a while by drinking out of my Starbucks travel mugs instead of disposing of paper cups all the time.

Thanks a lot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dark Humour

I'm discovering there's a fine line to be walked with the cancer jokes. There's this weird kind of responsibility that comes with being part of a minority group around a majority. For example, sometimes I send "Stuff Christians Like" links to certain friends who are not Christians. I might do it to show that I have a sense of humour about my subculture's foibles, or to try to explain a perspective on an issue I've been talking about with whomever I'm sending it to, but I find that there's often a kind of disconnect. The recipient isn't from that sub-culture, so they can't exactly know what it feels like to be in it. And they might not be sure they're allowed to laugh.

It's kind of like that with cancer, only maybe a little more selfish. There's a significant group of people out there who have or have had cancer, but most of the folk with whom I rub shoulders don't or haven't. And there's a need, when you have cancer (and when you're me and tend to look at things a little wryly in the first place) to find the humour in the situation or you just won't make it out at all. On the other hand, you can make people Extremely Uncomfortable by doing it. I regret to admit that for me at least, sometimes there's a certain appeal to that factor.

The other day a lady came into Starbucks and said, "Jenn! How are your book sales doing?" I haven't really heard anything about my book since the signing, and frankly, I've had other things on my mind so I haven't tried to hard to track down this information recently. There was a significant part of me who wanted to respond loudly over the tops of the espresso machines, so the entire store could hear, "Yeah--I'm not really sure. I just found out I have cancer, so book sales are kind of 'Enh--you know.' You know?"

Internally, I was cracking myself up imagining myself doing that and picturing the deer-in-the-headlights looks I would have elicited on the faces of all the customers. But (I fortunately realised), that would just be mean. So I said, "Actually, I don't really know. I've been a little busy and overwhelmed lately to pay attention." Which was true enough, although I didn't get as much entertainment value out of it.

On the other hand, when Bentleman said, that same evening, "Hey! What's everyone going to be for Hallowe'en?" I couldn't resist saying, "The cadaver."

Well. My surgery is on Hallowe'en. If the idea on Hallowe'en is to dress up as something scary without actually being it, how much more Hallowe'en-y can you get?

"Um, Jenn?" said Bentleman (or maybe 409-Caitlin), "That's just gross."

Right. Right. But . . . see above. Also. Let's not forget my last name is "Grosser."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

See? Food!

I have just received my first cancer meal.

Actually, that might not necessarily be true, because of all the concerned and caring emails that I got last week, only Cousin Elizabeth wrote hers like this:

I wish that I could cook you a meal. I mean, I know that you're not debilitated and are quite physically capable of cooking for yourself--hot meals are just my gut reaction to any crisis situation. At certain times, it's nice just to relax and eat what someone else made. Consider yourself the virtual recipient of the following: creamed chicken over rice, green beans, dinner rolls, brownies. Nice and starchy. Classic Southern comfort food. Maybe there should be some homemade mac and cheese on that list, too.

I loved this letter. Which is why I'm bragging on my cousin. But it was a little like watching a cooking programme where the food looks so delicious and you can't eat any of it.

Tonight though? Tonight 409-Caitlin and her brother Facebook-Brendan came back to Starbucks (even though her shift had ended three hours earlier) and brought me leftovers from their mini-family reunion. I like leftovers in any event, but these ones? Well, let me just tell you.

It's no wonder I think 409-Caitlin is awesome--her family apparently eats seafood when they reunite just like mine does. So she and her brother brought me clam chowder (real New England clam chowder--homemade--even though they're from New York?!) and a crab-cake and two lobster tails and a baked potato and two ears of corn and a slice of apple pie and a slice of pumpkin pie . . . oh yeahhhh . . .

I suspect it's because no one has scalpeled me open yet, but I think I might so far be enjoying this way more than I should be.

Well, today I was anyway. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, though.

Referral

Most of the blogs I read are written by people I know or have gotten to know . . . through their blogs. But every once in a while I find a blog where, whether I get any personal connexion or not, there's enough of an emotional connexion, or hilarious enough writing, that I just keep going back to read more.

Mary Beth over at BlondeChampagne is one of those, and for some reason (even though I haven't done anything recently like what she describes in the post I'm going to link you to--even though I probably should) this post of hers really resonated with me. So, instead of trying to write something comically profound myself, I'll let her do the talking today.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Carcinogens

Americano-Jimmy is not, of course, the only person to worry about getting cancer. Some people are more vocal about their worries, but there's always a barrage of warnings and rules and advice and things. Many people say, in a sort of resigned tone, "In the end, everyone's going to die of cancer," but I suspect most people think and hope they're going to be the lucky ones who escape unscathed . . . to die of something else.

Last night I got home from work kind of late and hadn't eaten yet. The Sixes had kindly made me a plate of food so all I had to do was microwave it and eat it. (One of these days I'm going to tell you just how great it has been having the Sixes here at this time.) I took a plate out of the recently-run dishwasher and placed it upside-down on top of the plate of food, because, as I said, "If I microwave with plastic over this, I might get cancer."

Heather-of-Six and I both laughed really hard when I said that. We've been making other "I/you might get cancer" jokes since then, although we both agree there's something a little morbid about it.

But here's what I'm discovering. Actually having cancer starts to alter how you think about it. I mean, my parents bought me a juicer so I can increase my intake of vitamins and minerals through fruits and vegetables. This juicer is Awesome. Heather-of-Six and I made some apple/carrot/celery juice this morning, and the juicer completely annihilated the vegetables in seconds, and the juice was delicious. I plan on using it a lot, both for health reasons and because it is So Cool.

On the other hand . . . I have cancer. There's no more of this pending, waiting, worrying, what-if-I-get-it, hoping-I-don't stuff. Too late! I already did! So--well--it feels like a lot of the pressure's off. I can drink the juice because I like it, and I can take supplements if I want because it would be nice not to go through this again and that might help. But there are no guarantees (I wasn't living that unhealthily before, and I rarely microwaved with plastic).

I kind of feel like I can relax now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

This is a Test, This is Only a Test

As are so many things these days . . .

Basically, facebook stopped importing my blog, and then I tried to re-import it, and now it's posting everything twice. Sheesh.

So I want to see what happens this time . . .

A Little Tip

This post is not about cancer.

Imagine that.

Here is something I was thinking about at Starbucks the other night:

If you go to a bar and buy a drink, it is etiquette to leave a dollar tip. If you go to a restaurant and buy a meal, it is etiquette to leave 15-20% tip. So why, I wanted to know, is it okay to simply leave the 6 cents you got as change when you tip at a coffee shop?

I don't actually have any answers to this question. I'm not clear how much to tip in a coffee shop, either, when I'm the customer (though I try to err on the generous side for obvious reasons). I'm not exactly ranting--although when people don't tip at all, I think that's just not fair.

I certainly don't think a coffee that cost $1.73 merits a $1 tip, although some rare people are kind enough to leave that. But we are providing a service, and in this case, it's even something people could make at home. Since they are disinclined to do this, and they're paying for this beverage in the first place, you would think they could throw in a little extra for the person who made the coffee so they didn't have to . . .

Well, at least--I would think . . .

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

And ALSO . . .

. . . is it really somehow cosmically necessary that every single sink in the house and the upstairs toilet be having plumbing problems right now?

Another Kind of TMI

Today Heather-of-Six and I talked to the Medical Oncologist, the Radiology Oncologist, and a Nurse Practitioner. (On Monday it was the Surgical Oncologist.) We liked all of them. Not so much everything they had to say, though.

Favourite Points:

1. Yesterday's MRI indicates that my lymph nodes seem to be clear. (We won't know that for sure until the actual surgery, though.)

2. There are all kinds of potential cosmetic alterations that I can have if I want, that even my less-than-satisfactory insurance will now pay for. Hah.


Unfavourite Points:

1. Yesterday's MRI indicates a surprise! Some sort of tiny, as yet undefined, nodule on my lung. Everyone is optimistic that this is scar tissue from some past infection, but since they found it, they have to check it out. Add a PET scan to my roster of tests, please . . . (Also note that everyone was previously optimistic that the nodule we all already knew about was benign.)

2. Apparently youth is not actually an asset in the whole cancer realm, for various reasons, one of which is that I might live long enough to get it again.

3. It is pretty well decided that I will have to have chemo. I find it somewhat troubling that the idea of losing my hair is more upsetting to me than the idea of, say, dying. Prepare for songs like "I'll Be Bald for Christmas" and other cheery anthems as the season approaches.

My brain doesn't really know what to do with all this data, and this evening, instead of exploding, I found myself both laughing and crying hysterically At The Same Time. It was like one of those days where the sun's out and it starts pouring. We had a day like that last Wednesday . . . when the only trouble I thought I was having was with my car.

MRI

Unfortunately, even after all the laughter the day before, yesterday was not so good.

I had a last-minute MRI scheduled (by which I mean, while I was talking to the surgeon on Monday, they scheduled my MRI for Tuesday), which meant I had to get out of my Starbucks shift for that day. Fortunately, I had already brought up my condition to the person who ended up covering my shift, so I didn't have to say, "By the way . . . " and all that.

It was a glorious fall day, and I thought how great it would be to go for a walk in Elm Park instead of hanging out in a tube, but it didn't occur to me until I ended up in a room that looked like something out of the original Star Wars that I maybe should have brought Heather-of-Six or someone along for moral support.

I knew she wouldn't have been able to come into the "docking bay" with me, but still, knowing she was there outside for me to immediately debrief to would have been strengthening, I think. When the technician not-very-skillfully jabbed a small catheter into my arm and left it there (this is the first time anyone's ever stuck something into my vein and not taken it back out again almost immediately), I realised I was "not in Kansas" anymore.

And when I lay face down onto the padded device which was to slide me into the giant magnetic test tube, I felt like I wanted to cry. The technician asked me what XM station I wanted to listen to during my ordeal, and 90's-to-now seemed good enough at the time, although in hindsight I'm pretty sure I'll ask for classical, because listening to people crooning or moaning about either fulfilled or unfulfilled love, while the sounds of a construction dig were going on all around me, somehow in association with a disease I didn't ask for that has to do with part of what makes me female and someone who might like to be a candidate for fulfilled love at some point in her existence was, shall we say, not altogether uplifting.

Afterwards I went to the mall to look for a dress for a wedding I'm going to on Friday. I have really been looking forward to going to this wedding because I really like the couple and they and their friends are so much fun I'm pretty sure the wedding will be, too. But I was also hungry, and the food court in that mall is really creepy, particularly when it's empty, which it mostly was. There's a carousel that plays carousel music which only doesn't sound nightmarish when it's outside and there are lots of people and real children enjoying it. There were also those weird little "bucking bronco"-type kiddie rides, complete with disembodied children's-laughter sound effects, which added to the whole "oh yeah, it's October, the month when we think about dead people" ambiance. Then there were little table tents on all the tables with pink ribbons on them because (as the ever-with-it-and-observant-Kristin (formerly posting on this blog as "cuppajojo") had already pointed out to me) it is Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Month as well as Pastor Appreciation Month.

Plus, somehow retail therapy didn't seem to cut it in the circumstances.

Plus I didn't find a dress.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

TMI

There really isn't a good way to bring up this topic.

For example, I feel that my colleagues at Starbucks should probably know why my schedule is going to be even more erratic than normal and why I might be calling on them more often to cover shifts for me. But it's a little weird to just, out of the blue, say, "Hey--I can't work my shift tomorrow because I have a doctor's appointment--'cause I have cancer. Did I tell you I have cancer?"

Also, when customers come and order their drink and ask how I'm doing, sometimes I want to say, "Well, you know. I'm okay. I just found out I have cancer, but other than that I'm fine." Mostly that's just inappropriate. But there are some customers with whom I feel I have a long-standing enough relationship (even if I never see them on the other side of the counter), that I might want them to know. There just isn't a good way to introduce it.

I discovered this yesterday when Americano-Jimmy came and said, "So Jenn, how are you? What's new?"

Um . . .

The thing about Americano-Jimmy is that he is kind of a hypochondriac (worse than I am) and kind of a germophobe, and he has this long-standing semi-joke with a few of us: if he feels that there's any danger of our accidentally putting his hot espresso shots in the plastic iced cup before we put the ice in, he cries, "Wait! Put the ice in first! You're going to give me cancer!"

For some reason I hadn't fully thought through the fact that if I brought this up as a lead-in to telling him about my own condition, he'd feel bad instead of thinking it was funny.

Oops. Poor guy.

Manager-Hillarie says this is very literal and George Carlin of me. She also said it would be funny if we became known as the Too-Much-Information store and always just answered the "How are you?" question completely honestly. She and I probably spent at least 45 minutes last night coming up with various inappropriate answers to that question. We were very tired, so this wasn't too hard, and it also made us laugh until we were rolling on the floor and our smiles practically split our heads in half.

They say laughing is supposed to help . . .

Not Your Average (Open) Letter

Here is a letter I sent yesterday to a number of people who, graciously, pray for me:

I don't really know how to introduce this topic; there aren't many good lead-ins. So I'm just going to say that last Friday afternoon, a surgical oncologist phoned me to tell me that, to his surprise, results of some tests I had came back positive: I have breast cancer.

Today my friend Heather came with me to meet with him, and he laid things out very personably and plainly. I have neither the most serious nor the least serious type of this cancer (level 2 out of 3). It is invasive, not in situ, but I have some necessary proteins that make it not quite as scary as it could be. I will be having surgery and radiation therapy; we're waiting for some further results to come back before any decisions can be made about chemo.

I have this tendency to blow things out of proportion, so the fact that I still feel remarkably calm about all this is a little puzzling. I suspect a large part of it is the peace of Christ, although since I have a hard time availing myself of that most of the time, there may also be a part of this calm which is solely because this is, as yet, new, and the attention-seeking part of me perversely likes it, and the hypochondriacal part is happy to actually have been right for once. Yes. I am a complex and flawed person! ;-)

I think I'm most concerned about financial fall-out (I do have insurance, but I'm not sure how comprehensive the coverage is, and I will not be able to work for a few weeks, at jobs where time worked equals time paid), but of course the physical hazards are potentially high. More than anything, I would like prayer that my attitude through all this will reflect true trust in Jesus, and His love . . . and if some of my friends could somehow get to know Him through this--well, then I would feel it was worth it.

(That last bit sounds kind of ridiculously pious, doesn't it? I think I mean it, though.)

Thanks for your friendship and prayers. I couldn't get through this without you.

Jenn

This blog may well be able to be renamed "The Cancer Diaries" soon. I apologise for this. Seeing, however, as I have been feeling totally different about this on every given day, I may well not be capable of talking about much else for a while.
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